When Digital Twins Differ, Blame the Parents

Both Dassault Systèmes and PTC are talk about their digital twins, but each has a different approach.

When Dassault Systèmes CEO Bernard Charlès walks in front of an audience to proclaim his vision of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, he is talking about the digital twin. The process of innovation, collaboration and verification builds on more than the digital representation of the product. It builds on a platform that allows designers and clients to interact with the product, test the product and understand how it works . . . before and during its existence.

When PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann walks in front of an audience to explain how the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality and big-data analytics are redefining the competitive forces shaping the manufacturing industry, he uses the digital twin concept. When the product lifecycle management (PLM) process can follow the product into the field and then back into the next design cycle, it creates a closed-loop product design system. This process allows new insights into designs. It enables predictive customer service engagement to fix products . . . all before they fail.

Both companies have been racing to create their visions of the digital twin. Dassault Systèmes has invested $1.5 billion in acquisitions over three years adding companies such as Accelrys, RTT and Archividéo. PTC has spent $750 million combined for ThingWorx, Axeda, ColdLight, Vuforia and more. In both cases, the strategy builds digital twins – but these twins could not look any further apart.

Bernard Charlès’ company is building the 3DEXPERIENCE platform in order to create and interact with the digital twin. (Image courtesy of the author.)

Bernard Charlès’ company is building the 3DEXPERIENCE platform in order to create and interact with the digital twin. (Image courtesy of the author.)

The Dassault Systèmes digital twin concept focuses on building complex products the right way the first time, and with the company’s pedigree in aeronautics, the priority is understandable. Charlès describes how evaluating the product is critical. To evaluate a product properly, all of the characteristics and behaviors need to be presented, modeled, simulated and visualized. The ability to do that pretty much sums up its view of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, regardless if your product is a commercial airliner, a heart implant or an entire city.

The PTC concept aims to make the company’s manufacturing clients more competitive by anticipating changes in the industry and delivering the right toolset for success. The company pulls together both technologies and solutions that address the digitization of manufacturing; an emphasis on development of smart, connected products; product service; global regulation and other factors challenging its customers. PTC is building a set of solutions that goes full circle from the first idea of the product to characterizing the field performance of thousands of deployed products and back to the design and development of future generations of products.

And in doing so, both companies are talking about a digital twin.

Dassault Systèmes sees its 3DEXPERIENCE platform as one that enables the creation of the digital twin and the interaction with it. The company envisions its technology cutting across 12 different industries, from aerospace to mining to human sciences to urban planning.

Its advantage in tackling such an enormous problem is the commonality of needs—modeling, simulation, visualization, data management, supply chain management and process integration are areas where Dassault, a French CAD and PLM company, excels. Its benefit in acquiring and developing the key technologies to service a broad swath of clients is to lock down large customers with extraordinarily complex problems and then add the extensive network of suppliers that service these customers.

Jim Heppelmann's company is creating a live connection between the virtual and real and linking products with their digital twins. (Image courtesy of the author.)

Jim Heppelmann’s company is creating a live connection between the virtual and real and linking products with their digital twins. (Image courtesy of the author.)

On the other hand, why does a CAD and PLM company invest in the IoT, big-data analytics and augmented reality? If you are Jim Heppelmann, it could be due to a vision that no longer views a digital twin as a static, albeit perfect, digital copy of the physical product. It could be due to a vision that sees a digital twin as a living digital model of the physical product—a vision where the digital model is not only digitally perfect, but where the digital and the real come together, meet, interact and are—literally—linked together.

It is a step toward a closed-loop product lifecycle. Jim Heppelmann has described the problem of products leaving the factory and losing the link to the production team as the “dark side of the moon” problem. The IoT makes it possible to keep track of the product throughout its real lifecycle. The company worked through the competitive analysis of how IoT and other forces were changing manufacturing. It could see that the billions of smart, connected devices that would make up the IoT would require millions of applications. The founders of ThingWorx saw the same problem and created a company to deliver a solution.

PTC is famous for Pro/ENGINEER, yet it has a much larger customer base with the Windchill product, which also brought in the current CEO. Over the last five to 10 years, PTC has added businesses that allow its customers to manage the complexity of software development for manufactured goods as well as extend PLM abilities into service lifecycle management.

The PTC Strategy Is More than Just Integrating IoT Technologies into CAD and PLM

Dealing with the complexity of tomorrow’s world of smart, connected devices is not limited to writing IoT applications and getting devices connected. IoT changes how products can be serviced and supported too. The amount of information generated by hundreds or thousands of deployed products from a company brings never-before-seen issues of dealing with huge volumes of data and mining for useful information.

Big data and predictive analytics can allow a manufacturing company to know when a product will fail before it fails. This is already transforming some companies’ customer support business and allowing them to preemptively address product support and increase product uptime.

Servicing products before they fail transforms customer service, but linking the digital twin with the product in the field makes service and support more efficient and, therefore, more profitable. This is the motivation for PTC to add the augmented reality company Vuforia to its technology palette. Augmented reality is a deployable technology today on tablets and smartphones. Taken into the field, a service technician has the full resources of the service department in his hand.

But much more is possible. The technician can interact with the digital twin. They can see simulations of the digital model that reflect real-world conditions in the field. Access to remote experts is possible, which enables the full breadth of company knowledge to be available for onsite technicians when conditions warrant it. This combination of predictive servicing with systematic linking to the digital twin is one of the major benefits PTC plans to deliver to clients.

Why These Digital Twins Are Different

Dassault Systèmes and PTC are both addressing key concerns of their current and future customers. Yet their view of digital twins is not at all the same. Dassault Systèmes is building a platform for the creation of and interaction with the digital twin in order to support clients with extremely complex systems. PTC is building a live link between the digital twin and the real world that closes the loop in PLM and enables more competitive, transformative business solutions for customers.

Both companies are talking about digital twins, and while each digital twin could take the place of its physical counterpart, these are twins of different parents. Which parents are right about the digital future?

About the Author

Tom Lansford is an international marketing consultant and manages the sites Professional Workstation, CADplace France and CADplace UK. He has been living in Europe since 1992, and previously managed workstation marketing in Europe at NVIDIA. Lansford is a professional videographer and his interests include design visualization, simulation, graphics and GPU computing.